Aston Villa 1 Stoke City 4 match report: Peter Odemwingie and Peter Crouch put Villa to the sword after early Christian Benteke opener
The Potters recovered to win their second away league match this season
Sunday 23 March 2014
After a victory over Chelsea that promised a corner had been turned, Villa slipped back into their old calamitous ways on Sunday, sinking to a ninth defeat at home this season, moreover against a Stoke City side whose last win away had been back in August, at West Ham United.
No Stoke side had won at Villa Park in 14 attempts since 1965, yet this was ultimately a stroll for Mark Hughes’ team, who climbed above Villa to 10th in the Premier League after suffering only one defeat in nine matches. With 37 points, they can probably consider themselves safe from relegation.
Villa had been in front after five minutes, with a buoyant home crowd anticipating a greatly different outcome. By the end, the ground was almost deserted, save for the Stoke contingent, who chanted “4-1 to the rugby team” before clearing their throats for another rendition of “Delilah”.
It is an outdated label now. If there was an illustration that Stoke have moved on from the physical, one-dimensional model that was their former identity it came in their third goal, started and finished by Steven N’Zonzi with 15 or so passes in between.
The goal had Hughes feeling a pleasant glow of satisfaction. “We’ve moved on from that, there is a bit more too us now,” he said. “The perception of the team is not going to go away overnight but I’m happy that people are noticing that there is a change in style.
“It takes time. Sometimes in away games, in particular, we have reverted to type a bit but we kept the ball well today and did not allow Villa to develop any momentum.”
The first five minutes had suggested a different course of events as Villa carved through the Stoke defence to take the lead. Christian Benteke drove towards the middle and slipped the ball wide left to Ryan Bertrand, whose pass towards Fabian Delph should have been cut out by Geoff Cameron but was not, allowing Delph in behind to cut the ball back to Benteke, who took one touch before driving it left-footed into the roof of Asmir Begovic’s net.
It took Stoke until the 20th minute to muster a shot, Peter Odemwingie skimming one over the bar. Two minutes later, though, they were level, as the unravelling of Villa began. Odemwingie hoicked the ball into the Villa box and followed it, so that when Peter Crouch held his own in a grapple with Nathan Baker to nod it down again, he was there to control it on his chest and poke it past Brad Guzan.
As a goal it was a throwback to the Tony Pulis days, a scruffy finish on the end of a hopeful build-up. The next was cleaner, although not from Villa’s perspective.
Marko Arnautovic, the Austrian midfielder who cuts a lumbering figure but has a sharp brain and a deft touch, backheeled a pass towards Erik Pieters, overlapping down the left. He looked up to spot Crouch, who had found himself a vacant spot in the penalty area despite being outnumbered by Villa defenders and neatly sidefooted the cutback from Pieters to score his ninth goal of the season.
Villa were not helped by losing Karim El Ahmadi and Andreas Weimann to injury, obliging Paul Lambert to make a double change after 33 minutes, after which he struggled to find a balance.
Then came the greater blow of a third Stoke goal, three minutes before half-time, put away by N’Zonzi at the culmination of a move, if it can be called that, involving 17 passes. Most of them were in their own half, but what it did exemplify was the instinctive readiness to keep possession that Hughes has instilled.
Finally the ball was thumped forward, but with purpose, finding Arnautovic ranging into space on the left. When Leandro Bacuna failed to intercept, Arnautovic drove the ball across the penalty area, where it clipped the heels of Baker before finding N’Zonzi, who had time and space to drive his shot into the corner of Guzan’s goal.
The second half was notable for Villa’s failure to create more than the occasional threat, the frustration getting the better of Benteke, who roared and pointed at referee Mark Clattenburg when he failed to award a penalty against Cameron and was booked for his trouble.
Stoke picked off a fourth goal at the death. Again Bacuna was easily taken out by Arnautovic, allowing the Austrian to cut a ball back for Cameron, who had made his way stealthily into the centre to expose Villa’s defensive shortcomings again.
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Guzan 7/10; Bacuna 4, Vlaar 6, Baker 5, Bertrand 6; El Ahmadi 7, Westwood 6, Delph 7; Weimann 6, Benteke 7, Agbonlahor 5
Substitutes: Albrighton (El Ahmadi 33) 5; Sylla (Weimann 33) 6; Holt (Westwood 73) 5.
Substitutes not used: Steer (gk), Bennett, Clark, Robinson.
Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Begovic 7; Cameron 7, Shawcross 7, Wilson 7, Pieters 7; Palacios 7, Whelan 6; Odemwingie 6, Nzonzi 7, Arnautovic 8; Crouch 7.
Substitutes: Muniesa (Pieters 78) 6.
Substitutes not used: Sorensen (gk), Shea, Guidetti, Wilkinson, Shotton, Ward.
Man of the match: Arnautovic.
Match rating: 6/10.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)
Bookings: Aston Villa: El Ahmadi, Benteke, Albrighton, Bacuna, Baker. Stoke City: Palacios.
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